When people are in intense pain, doctors are likely to prescribe opioid painkillers. These painkillers can lessen pain and make someone feel “better” despite an injury, but the use of these painkillers comes with a risk: the development of painkiller addiction. Studies suggest nearly 8-12% of patients who receive opioid painkiller prescriptions develop opioid-use disorders.
When speaking in terms of substance misuse, opioid addiction is one of the hardest to overcome due to the way the chemicals in the brain are affected. With the opioid crisis in America still affecting communities at record levels, it’s time we take a look at the long-term effects of these opioids.
Opiates are prescribed and administered to treat pain, as their chemicals mimic those that are already naturally occurring in the brain. These painkillers contain chemicals that bond with receptors in the brain, causing pain-relieving effects by working their way through the nervous system.
When these receptors in the nervous system are stimulated, the body creates dopamine at an accelerated rate. As a result, an individual’s pain will significantly decrease without eliminating its cause.
When someone builds a tolerance to opioids, their brain signals that it needs more opioid receptors to feel good. After prolonged use, the brain will begin to develop more of these opioid receptors, which will demand more of the drug to bind with to feel “good.”
With drugs like opioids, larger doses are needed over time due to the buildup of tolerance levels. Because a person has a certain level of the drug present in their system, they will need more of it to feel the effects.
This can result in a person continually needing to increase their dosage to feel anything at all, often resulting in people upping their prescription and taking more and more overtime.
Opioid effects modify the way that the brain processes stress and pain. When the body becomes dependent on opioids, it can lose its ability to tolerate pain on its own. Research suggests that prolonged opioid use can reduce the body’s innate pain-fighting abilities. As a result, the person using opioids needs to rely on them to relieve pain. Because of this, a person undergoing withdrawal can have increased feelings of pain, making it much easier to depend on the drug.
Unfortunately, the general population has an unclear understanding of how opioids affect the brain; doctors and major pharmaceutical companies, on the other hand, have an excellent knowledge of how painkillers influence people. Doctors consistently prescribe these medications with little thought or concern for the patient’s long-term health and pharmaceutical companies continue to push the product on the market.
At Scartelli Olszewski, P.C., we understand how prescription opioid addiction can put someone’s life on hold or tragically cut it short. If you or a loved one have been a victim of the over-prescription of opioid medication, contact our team of attorneys for a free consultation.
The Brain’s Response to Opioids
Painkillers and Opioid Use Disorder
Understanding the Effects of Opioids on the Brain
The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment
Prevalence of Chronic Pain and High-Impact Chronic Pain Among Adults — United States, 2016